In his first interview since completing his move to Stamford Bridge, Nicolas Jackson explains why it will be a dream come true to play for Chelsea in the Premier League, and reveals the trio of Blues strikers he idolised growing up.
A versatile forward, Jackson first learned the skills of his trade by trying to emulate the feats of his heroes while playing football on the streets of Senegal, where he spent most of his childhood.
Following a brilliant 2022/23 season with Villarreal, during which he became one of La Liga’s breakout stars, Jackson is now set to follow the path of his childhood idols, having joined Chelsea shortly after his 22nd birthday.
He discusses this while taking in the view from the West Stand lower on his first visit to Stamford Bridge, a stadium he has seen on television so many times but will now get to call home, making it clear that once he knew of Chelsea’s interest, this was the only place he was going to be playing his football in 2023/24.
‘This is the first time I’ve been to Stamford Bridge, it’s perfect,’ he said. ‘It’s very big and the fans are near the pitch. The Villarreal stadium is like that, so I’m used to the fans being right up close to the pitch and I like that a lot.
‘I wanted to join a big team and Chelsea is one of the best teams in the world, plus I’ve watched them since I was young. I watched Demba Ba, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka was good too, big players. So I always dreamed of playing for a team like this.
‘When Chelsea came there was no question in my mind. I always had this kind of team in my mind. I talked to my family and my agent and I have icons who played here – Drogba and Ba, big strikers. So when Chelsea came my heart said the answer should be yes and I decided to follow it and come here.
‘I remember the Champions League final in 2012 and especially when Drogba scored that header right at the end. I watched those players for Chelsea when I was growing up so I decided to follow in their footsteps. Hopefully that’s what continues to happen now I’m here.’
It is not just at Chelsea and Stamford Bridge where Jackson already feels at home, as between watching from afar since an early age and a couple of well-placed advisors the striker already has a thorough knowledge of English football and the Premier League, adding further to his excitement and ensuring there are unlikely to be too many surprises in the transition to playing on these shores.
‘It’s amazing to have this feeling,’ continued Nicolas. ‘I watched English football when I was in Africa and now I am here, so it’s a good feeling for me. I grew up watching the Premier League because for me it is the best league in the world, so I love the Premier League and I know a lot about it and Chelsea.
‘I met Demba when I went to Senegal with the national team and wanted to ask him about Chelsea when I saw him during the last international break, but I couldn’t because there were too many people around. So I decided to wait and text him about it once I have signed for Chelsea and send him the shirt I wore for my signing too.
‘I spoke to my agent Diomansy Kamara about the Premier League as well, because he played in England for a few teams, including Fulham, so he knows the league and this area. He told me everything about playing here so I know a lot about it.’
His connections through the Senegal national team stretch even further when it comes to information gathering ahead of his start to life in west London. On his last international appearance – his third cap for his country – Jackson won the late penalty which allowed Sadio Mane to complete his brace and the scoring in a memorable 4-2 victory over Brazil. The Bayern Munich forward repaid the favour by filling Jackson in on new Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino, who Mane knows through their shared history with Southampton.
‘I spoke to Sadio Mane about him and he spoke very highly of him, he said amazing things about him. Sadio told me the manager is going to help me a lot to improve and do well if I listen to what he has to tell me, so that is exactly what I’m going to do.’
His call-up for the latest round of international fixtures was a deserved reward for what has been a fantastic year for Jackson. Having broken into the senior line-up at Villarreal and scored on his first La Liga start, the striker impressed enough to make his Senegal debut at last year’s World Cup.
After an injury setback which kept him out of action for the first couple of months in 2023, Jackson came back stronger than ever, with a switch to leading Villarreal’s attack as a centre-forward, rather than a role as the support striker in their 4-4-2 system, contributing to an incredible run of form. That culminated in him scoring nine goals in their last eight league games of the season and being named La Liga’s Player of the Month for May.
You might expect a player coming off the back of a breakthrough season like that to be a little surprised, perhaps even overwhelmed, by just how rapid his rise has been. After all, he ended the 2021/22 season competing – albeit to great success, scoring both goals in a play-off final victory – in the Spanish third division with Villarreal’s ‘B’ team, while his European top-flight experience was restricted to eight substitute appearances.
Not a bit of it, though. It is clear nothing is going to faze our new striker, while his driven nature means it is unlikely anyone will be demanding more from Jackson in his first season with Chelsea than the man himself.
‘I wasn’t amazed or surprised at how well my season went, I wanted to do more! I didn’t do enough for me, because I had my goals to reach but I didn’t achieve the goals I wanted. It was very good but I wanted more.
‘I am a guy that always wants more, but I always thank God for what he gave me. I’m always grateful and know how lucky I am to be able to do what I do, playing football for teams like this and in stadiums like this, but I always want to make the most of what I have been given, I always want to do better.
‘I knew it was coming because I was working so hard. Everything just takes time and hard work. Before I was thinking that if I scored all the chances I had, I would have scored maybe 30 goals. I was working hard because I was missing some chances, but later I improved a lot and I improved everything, so I knew it would happen sooner or later and I was ready for it.’
His work ethic arises again when he concludes his visit to the Bridge by pondering what the most important thing that Chelsea supporters should know about him as a player is. After considering his finishing, off the ball running and love of taking on defenders – which with his combination of skill, pace and strength can be a sight to behold – Jackson decides that his key attribute is the one in his head and in his heart.
‘I always give my best and give 100 per cent and always help the team, because I want to achieve things as a person and as a group. I always want more achievements, so hopefully if I work hard here those things will come and we will achieve things together at Chelsea, with the support of my team-mates and the fans.’